When the Ottawa Senators cancelled practice in New York yesterday, it wasn't for a team-bonding stroll around Central Park.
The way things are going with the underachieving squad, general manager Bryan Murray and coach Craig Hartsburg are in no mood to dole out rewards.
In fact, back-to-back losses to the New York Islanders to push their losing streak to four in a row, have put the Sens in full crisis mode.
So, rather than practise yesterday, Hartsburg opted to have one-on-one meetings with his players at the team's Manhattan hotel in advance of tonight's game against the Rangers.
"It's pro sports ... if you don't perform, you're going to get evaluated pretty much every night," captain Daniel Alfredsson said following Saturday's 3-2 loss on Long Island. "That goes for coaches, managers and it trickles down in order."
Murray has acknowledged that he has had talks with several teams around the league about potential deals and yesterday promoted former Leaf Brendan Bell from the team's AHL affiliate in Binghamton.
If any of this smacks of desperation, there is probable cause -- Murray surely knows that team owner Eugene Melnyk won't put up with much more underachieving from his well-paid team.
The Sens have just four goals in their current losing skid and Alfredsson has scored just one in their past 10 games. Jason Spezza, the favourite whipping boy from Sens fans and management, has just one in his past eight.
It's a far cry from a year ago when by mid-November, the Sens were 15-2 and considered not just contenders, but Stanley Cup favourites. Including last spring's playoffs, Ottawa has a miserable 34-42-10 record since.
The Leafs aren't the only team big on comebacks this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, five road teams have rallied to win after trailing by three goals, one more in such situations than all of last season.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz says the style of enforcement now makes it much more difficult for teams to protect a lead.
"It's harder to hold on to a lead now," Trotz said. "I remember when we first came into the league, you got up a goal and you could hook and hold and interfere your way to a 1-0 win almost nightly if you wanted to."
If the Leafs are weary after their week-long Western Canada trip, they will get a quick wakeup call from the Bruins tonight at the Air Canada Centre.
While the Leafs had the day off to recover, the Beantowners practised at Lakeshore Lions Arena, preparing for their third meeting of the season against the Leafs. With an 8-1-1 record in their past 10, including a 5-2 win over the Leafs on Nov. 6, the B's are one of the hottest teams in the league.
Meanwhile, the Bruins will be without defenceman Andrew Ference, who is expected to be out six to eight weeks with a broken leg suffered Thursday against Montreal.
AROUND THE RINKS
Looks like big trouble is brewing in Dallas where co-general manager Brett Hull doesn't exactly see eye-to-eye with coach Dave Tippett. "We have some trust issues right now," Tippett said this week. "I see a mistrust in players." ... How much longer can the Devils afford to live with their struggles in net? With Martin Brodeur out for at least three months after biceps surgery, word is GM Lou Lamoriello is interested in Olaf Kolzig from Tampa ... Darcy Tucker joined Kyle Wellwood as ex- Leafs with a big night Saturday. Tucker scored the tying goal with 10 seconds left and then the winner in the shootout to cap a Colorado Avalanche comeback in Edmonton ... Winners of five in a row and 11-4-2 overall, the Pittsburgh Penguins are off to their best start since 1995. A year ago, they were 7-9-1 ... Publicly at least, Leafs coach Ron Wilson despises hearing the word "playoffs" and his team in the same sentence. But can anyone in the Eastern Conference fear teams such as Monteal, Philly, Ottawa and Buffalo given their recent struggles? ... Blues president John Davidson wants to make it clear sending first-round draft pick Alex Pietrangelo back to Niagara of the OHL was not a demotion. "We just made a decision of: 'Let's take the Blues out of the equation and do what is right for Alex,' " Davidson said. "We gave him a great opportunity to experience first-hand what it takes to play in this league. Now he's got that in his pocket." ... Bruins rookie Blake Wheeler had a hat trick against the Leafs in Boston the first night after switching from No. 42 to 26. Apparently he considered taking 18 (as in 18-wheeler) but Stephane Yelle already had dibs.